MANUEL ALEGRE, esteemed writer and presidential candidate, addressed the American Club on a day when relations between Alegre and the Socialist Party, to which he is affiliated, became increasingly strained.
Alegre, perhaps trying to exploit his image as the election outsider, said he was the only one of the five major candidates without official party backing. “I am a member of the Socialist Party, but, in this campaign, I am an independent,” he said. He stated that his candidacy was, therefore, funded on the basis of “American voluntarism”, lamenting only that his adherence to the transatlantic style of campaigning did not stretch to receiving American-style financial donations!
Alegre’s avowal of independence had an ironic resonance in view of the bitter row surrounding his absence from parliament’s budget debate and vote. Vitalino Canas, vice-president of the socialist parliamentary group, said Alegre had chosen to subjugate his function as a socialist member of parliament to his presidential candidacy and that he had displayed an absence of party solidarity.
Alegre, questioned by journalists after his address, replied that the accusations were designed to discredit his campaign at a time when polls showed him in second place, ahead of the socialist party’s official candidate, Mário Soares. “Fortunately, there are no political tribunals in Portugal. The ultimate arbiters of my actions are myself and the Portuguese people at election time,” said Alegre. He added that deputies were free to exercise their right not to vote in parliament.
Crisis of confidence
undermines the nation
During his presentation at the Sheraton Hotel, Alegre said Portugal was undergoing a period of profound upheaval – “a crisis of the state and society, as well as a crisis of confidence in institutions, politics and politicians”.
He stated that Portugal had experienced difficulty in meeting the challenges of global competition, particularly from Asia, and said the problem of rising unemployment was a major concern. But Alegre rejected the free market model of development, citing education, training, and technological and social innovation as the keys to economic recovery.
Alegre outlined how he perceived the role of the President. “He must provide the conditions for stability and governance, and the essence and the health of democratic life. But he cannot just abide by formal rules – he must also respect civil liberties. Regardless of his own political beliefs, he must guarantee the rights enshrined in the constitution,” he said. “The President cannot impose his will – instead he can suggest, propose, cajole, consider and encourage. He must be a purveyor of democracy and a guarantor of citizens’ rights.” Alegre also said that Portugal needed to recover a sense of patriotism and self-respect regarding its culture and heritage.
Alegre justified his twin status as a writer and politician by citing a tradition of illustrious intellectuals who have contributed to Portuguese political life, such as Gil Vicente, Camões and Alexandre Herculano. “I’m convinced I can be a good President, serving the country and democracy,” he concluded.
At the end of the lunch, American Club president, Blaine Tavares, presented Alegre, whose son is currently working in New York on the Portuguese mission to the United Nations, with a special club tie in honour of his visit.